Ever since Microsoft has announced that InfoPath 2013 would be last release for their most popular forms technology, industry and SharePoint community was awaiting for what’s next at Microsoft’s announcements at SPC14.
As you have may have noticed from my blog articles, I have been huge fan of InfoPath form services and different capabilities it would bring to deliver quick no-code solutions for customers backed by amazing InfoPath community. Although InfoPath forms had its limitations (branding, mobility support, XSLT based technology, required Enterprise CALs etc.), disciplined approach allowed me to design and maintain complex enterprise level InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint 2010 solutions.
Ever since Microsoft has announced InfoPath Forms replacement roadmap update session at SPC14, industry and community leaders were looking forward to this session. Interestingly, while announcing has InfoPath and SharePoint forms update in January 2014, Microsoft has dropped some hints of Microsoft Word and Access Services being replacement for InfoPath form services. Microsoft provided early insight on their plans to deliver next generation intelligent, flexible, agile, and integrated forms experience that spans devices and browsers.
Fast Forward, SPC14 Day 2, 100s of us gathered in large conference room where Microsoft first time unveiled and provided sneak peek into their vision for future of Forms technologies and how they would like to work with customers and partners. In past, Microsoft has been tight-lipped and worked with partners, MVPs, and MCMs as private TAP program before announcing to general public. This year’s conference including both InfoPath and Forms roadmap session, it was evident that new era of Microsoft has started and many announcements like InfoPath directly released to general public and asked general customer communities to get their feedback on evolution of future of office.
It was interesting to note that as one of the speakers introduced themselves as Product Manager in Access Services group, many of us disappointed to have probability of Access Services as replacement for InfoPath forms services as first impression. Many of our shoulders were dropped and hopes scattered but this was new Microsoft. Soon very next slide Microsoft started session with quote from Charles Kettering – “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress”, which set the lower expectations tone for remainder of the session. Microsoft sent the message early and quickly that what you see is early insight into their thought process in forms technology and looking for customers and partners to help them out to help industry. They started session with message of starting of new journey – today we are outlining what we see as requirements, today we are sketching how we may fulfill those requirements, and asked for participation for our input, help, feedback, scenarios at http://OfficeForms.uservoice.com
Here are the major highlights of “Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms” Session
Vision and Guiding Principles
- Getting away from “One size fits all”, multiple options to cater different demand
- In an effort to streamline forms investments and deliver a more integrated Office forms user experience, Microsoft is retiring InfoPath and investing in new forms technology across SharePoint, Access, and Word
- Meet today’s businesses demand to easily design, deploy, and use intelligent, integrated forms experience across Office clients, servers, and devices that everyone can use on their PC, tablet, or phone
- InfoPath 2013 is the last release of the desktop client, InfoPath Forms Services in SharePoint Server 2013 is the last release of InfoPath Forms Services. Again reminder here is – InfoPath will be supported for next 10 years but there will be no new innovation.
InfoPath Forms Replacement Options – Office and SharePoint Forms
- Excel Surveys
- Also referred as FoSS, pronounced “Fossis” – Forms on Spreadsheet
- Design in Excel Online, great for quick surveys – web forms presented to users and data pushed into Excel
- Already available for Office 365 and OneDrive customers, will be continuously improved
- Already included with Office 2013 but web version will be available in SharePoint Sever vNext
- List Forms
- Replacement for InfoPath List Forms, Microsoft is aware of current experience of List Forms is modal and says “Modals are annoying”. 🙂
- Also referred as FoSL, pronounced “Fossil” – Forms on SharePoint List, It provides a very easy and low entry point for customization directly within browser for power users
- FoSL are based on Access design package technology, built into SharePoint, tied to single SharePoint List, will be available as “Customize Form” Ribbon menu for SharePoint Lists
- FoSL has no SQL backend, no Access backend, and no Code.
- Modern design capability – design in browser, browser drag and drop, resize controls in browser, and side by side view of list data and list Form
- In near 3-6 months, support will be added for cascading combos, lookup between lists, SharePoint list workflows, auto form layout from SharePoint list schema and anything prioritized from customer feedback program
- In near 1 year, support will be added for rules, business logic, hide/show of sections, mobile & touch friendly, personal profile information, Office 365 APIs & objects integration and anything prioritized from customer feedback program
- For future, support will be added for web service calls, enterprise data, and eSignature and anything prioritized from customer feedback program
- Available for Office 365 customer in between summer 2014 and October 2015
- Available for SharePoint On-Premises customers in SharePoint vNext server product in 2015
- Structured Documents
- Possible replacement for InfoPath Forms Library
- Based on Microsoft word technologies
- Although Microsoft didn’t share any backend architecture, content controls might use as design and data extract
- Meets the requirements for high fidelity, printable, archival forms, and meant to look like piece of paper
- More information and plans will be released at the end of the 2014. MS Word team will provide a roadmap for structured forms by end of year. No specific word on when it will be available for On-Premises and Office 365 customers.
- App Forms
- Based on Access Services Apps technology
- Meets the requirements with relational data with SQL backend. Think as a self-contained apps with collection if lists and items linked together through relationships.
- Any forms doesn’t require SharePoint List or Spreadsheet as data back-end
- Access Apps will have similar UI as FoSL – side by side view of data and forms
- Already available for Office 365 Customers as Access Services, will be continuously improved, Access Services data stored in SQL Azure for Office 365 customers
- Already included with Office 2013 & SharePoint 2013 for On-Premises as Access Services 2013 Service Application
Questions & Answers
This is where I respected Microsoft most. Sonya and her band of presenters brave enough to not only finish their roadmap session quickly but allowed attendees enough time (more than half an hour) for Q&A. This is brave Microsoft who just didn’t wanted to say something and run away but embrace the community and understand their pain points for future direction of forms. Bravo, Microsoft!!!!!
- Where can I participate in Forms discussion and provide our feedback? – http://officeforms.uservoice.com/
- We have many InfoPath forms in use, what do we do? What should I use to build and complete forms right now? – Microsoft says you should continue to use InfoPath technology but I would say it depends with caution – I would continue use InfoPath on SharePoint 2013 On-premises but plan to redesign for future version of SharePoint On-premises servers. I would avoid using InfoPath for new development if needed in Office 365 or plan for redesign with new Forms technologies as soon as it’s available in near future.
- How long will InfoPath be supported? – The InfoPath 2013 client will be supported through April 2023, InfoPath Forms Services for SharePoint Server 2013 will be supported until April 2023 (please note that it’s supported until 2023 only for SharePoint Server 2013, there might be no InfoPath Form Services in vNext of SharePoint, this should be read as – InfoPath Form Services will be supported on SharePoint On-Premises until 2013 as long as SharePoint Server supports InfoPath Form Services), Office 365 users will have until at least the next major release of Office, plus some e.g. Office 365 support will have until 2015 Q3 or possibly 2016 Q1 in Office 365. Microsoft will provide full notice before anything is turned off.
- Will Microsoft provide migration tools for InfoPath? – No plans yet, Microsoft doesn’t know yet, they are evaluating various options to aid in migration. Third parties may provide tools, or even support running InfoPath forms into the future
- When should I use Access vs. FoSL? – Access is best for self-contained apps consisting of multiple related tables and multiple forms. FoSL is best for a single form on top of a single table (SharePoint List)
- What about support for CSR, LightSwitch, Visual Studio, Custom APIs etc.? – Microsoft is deliberately targeting information workers & power users who do not code, these are other developer technologies, for those who code
- Will we able to propagate forms across multiple environments? – You can package it as an App Package. No story yet for FoSL.
- We are using repeating tables today in InfoPath forms library, is it going to be supported? – Multi-value fields & repeating are something Microsoft is looking at for future. Please voice your feedback at http://officeforms.uservoice.com/
- What about reusability with InfoPath forms library and content types for structured design? – Microsoft don’t have any answers yet. They are looking at Word structured documents to answer this.
- What kind of functionality we may lose with newer direction? – Nothing formal. Maybe code behind and custom code as future is focused on Information Worker
- Will FoSL support cascading combos? – Yes, this was added to Access this last year, there are plans to make it available in FoSL
- Will there be any offline support? – Microsoft is looking at caching. It’s on radar, probably looking at 1 year in future
- What about support for external data sources? – Yes, Microsoft is looking at least a year out
Overall, I loved Microsoft’s new approach engaging customers to provide best solutions to solve their issues (that’s what I preach as consultant as well). Although I can’t convey my feelings in this blog but I went from anticipation of forms future to early shocking/frustrating news of Access team being as presenters to curiosity over new options suggested by Microsoft to gaining appreciation and respect of how Microsoft approached the session. Having multiple options instead of 1 pill for everything, it seems like future of Forms is going to include multiple options, latest web technologies, & office contextual experience with clear direction on when to use what.
- Voice your opinion on Office Forms Future – http://officeforms.uservoice.com/
- SPCTV Insight into Future of the Forms – https://channel9.msdn.com/Events/SharePoint-Conference/2014/SPCtv-Insights-into-the-Future-of-Forms
- Office Blogs’ Update on InfoPaths and SharePoint Forms – http://blogs.office.com/2014/01/31/update-on-infopath-and-sharepoint-forms/
- Tobias Zimmergren’s The future of Forms with SharePoint and Office 365 – http://zimmergren.net/business/the-future-of-forms-with-sharepoint-and-office-365
- Jennifer Mason’s Navigating the Microsoft Forms Roadmap #SPC14 – http://www.cmswire.com/cms/social-business/navigating-the-microsoft-forms-roadmap-spc14-024389.php
- SHAREPOINT CONFERENCE 14 NOTES: UPDATE ON INFOPATH AND SHAREPOINT FORMS – http://www.deliveron.com/blog/post/SharePoint-Conference-14-Notes-Update-on-InfoPath-and-SharePoint-Forms.aspx